All but four of the Arctic 30, arrested aboard a Greenpeace icebreaker two months ago, have now been granted bail by St Petersburg courts, and 11 of the 30 have actually been released. But so far none of the six Britons involved has been able to leave detention.
On Thursday, Frank Hewetson, a 45-year-old logistics co-ordinator from north London, and Iain Rogers, a crew member on the Arctic Sunrise, joined communications officer Alexandra Harris, activist Anthony Perrett and journalist Kieron Bryan in having their requests for bail granted.
“I am still taking it in,” said Sue Turner, Rogers’s mother. “I am really pleased, but I am not very pleased that the charges haven’t been withdrawn. I don’t know what that means yet. He might not be able to leave Russia or St Petersburg but it will give him a little more freedom.”
Hewetson, who lives with his partner, Nina Gold, and teenage children, Nell and Joe, has been arrested on several other protests before but this detention, which has so far lasted more than two months, is his longest period of imprisonment. Gold, welcoming the “fantastic news” and echoing other families’ concerns about the continuing charges and uncertain bail conditions, said: “It is not all over yet. I am in the process of applying for a visa to go and see him.” Their son and daughter were thrilled too, she said. “They want to go and see their dad as soon as possible.”
Bryan, who was granted bail on Wednesday, was expected to emerge from Pre-Trial Detention Centre No 4 early on Thursday evening, but at the last minute his release was delayed on a technicality. His lawyers said that he was now being “illegally detained” as all the documents were in order, but he was expected to be set free on Friday.
Twenty-six of the Arctic 30 have now been granted bail at £38,000 each. Philip Ball, from Oxfordshire, and two others face bail hearings on Friday. Only 59-year-old Australian citizen Colin Russell has had his detention extended, but he is confident that his failed appeal, the first to be heard, was an administrative error and will soon be rectified.
“He was in a pretty upbeat mood,” said Paul Myler, the Australian ambassador to Russia, who visited Russell on Thursday. “Initially when bail was denied he was pretty down, and wondering what was going on. He is now reasonably confident that there has been a change in strategy by the prosecutors and he’ll be freed.” Myler said he was given similar indications during meetings with prosecutors and investigators in St Petersburg on Thursday.
All 30 still face charges of hooliganism as part of an organised group, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. Their boat was stormed by Russian coastguard officials during a protest against Arctic oil drilling near the Prirazlomnaya rig in the Pechora Sea, and they were held in the northern city of Murmansk before the transfer to St Petersburg earlier this month. Rumours have swirled that Russia may allow them to leave, but for now they remain in St Petersburg.
Greenpeace said in a statement that those released on bail had been given their passports back, and would now stay at a “safe place in St Petersburg”. Despite not having valid Russian visas, the bailed activists have been given special registration cards that allow them to remain in Russia legally.
“There is still no clarity on when the Arctic 30 will finally be able to return home,” said the organisation.
In comments on the case on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin conceded that Greenpeace had “noble goals”, but said it had put lives at risk and should face the consequences.
“Some were climbing the platform, others attacked our border guards, they virtually attacked them on boats forcing them away from the platform,” said Putin during a forum on Russian literature. “It is impossible to either act in such a way or to think that way. Not all noble goals can be accomplished by any means.”
By Shaun Walker. Source: The Guardian